THE LIMITS OF SENSE AND REASON: A Line-By-Line Critical Commentary on Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” #18–The Necessary Equivalence of Experience-of-Objects and Objects-of-Experience.

By Robert Hanna

[I] was then making plans for a work that might perhaps have the title, “The Limits of Sense and Reason.” I planned to have it consist of two parts, a theoretical and a practical. The first part would have two sections, (1) general phenomenology and (2) metaphysics, but this only with regard to its method. (Letter to Marcus Herz, 21 February 1772 [C 10: 129])

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Previous Installments:

#1: Introduction to The Limits of Sense and Reason

#2: Bii/GW91 The Motto

#3: Aiii/Biii/GW93–97 The Dedication

#4: Avii-ix/GW99 Preface to the First (A) Edition.

#5: Axi note/GW100–101 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#6: Axi note/GW100–101 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#7: Axii-xiv/GW101–102 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#8: Axv-xvi/GW102–103 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#9: Axvi-xvii/GW103 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#10: Axvii-xx/GW103–104 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#11: Axxi-xxii/GW104–105 Preface to the First (A) Edition

#12: Bviii-ix/GW106–107 Preface to the Second (B) Edition

#13: Bix-x/GW107 Preface to the Second (B) Edition

#14: Bx-xii/GW107–108 Preface to the Second (B) Edition

#15: Bxii-xiv/GW108–109 Preface to the Second (B) Edition

#16: Bxiv-xv/GW109–110 Preface to the Second (B) Edition

#17: Bxv-xxii/GW109–113 Preface to the Second (B) Edition, Part I

A Note on References to Kant’s Works

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The first five installments in this series followed the 2019–2020 version of THE LIMITS OF SENSE AND REASON, aka LSR.

Starting with installment #6, subsequent installments follow the revised and updated 2021 version of LSR.

In any case, you can read or download a .pdf of the complete text of the 2021 version of LSR HERE.

Because LSR is an ongoing and indeed infinite task, revised and updated .pdfs of the complete text will be uploaded to that URL on a regular basis.

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CPR TEXT Bxv-xxii/GW109–113 Preface to the Second (B) Edition

This text was quoted in its entirety in installment #17, HERE.

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COMMENTARY

(II) Kant’s Copernican Revolution as Extended to Human Concepts, and The Necessary Equivalence of Experience-of-Objects and Objects-of-Experience

Yet because I cannot stop with these intuitions, if they are to be come cognitions, but must refer them as representations to something as their object and determine this object through them, I can assume either that the concepts through which I bring about this determination also conform to the objects, and then once again I am in the same difficulty about how I could know anything about them a priori, or else I assume that the objects, or what is the same thing, the experience in which alone they can be cognized (as given objects) conforms to those concepts, in which case I immmediately see an easier way out of the difficulty, since experience itself is a kind of cognition requiring the understanding, whose rule I have to presuppose in myself before any object is given to me, hence a priori, which rule is expressed in concepts, to which all objects of experience must therefore necessarily conform, and with which they must agree. (CPR Bxvii-Bxviii, italics in the original)

We’ve already seen how The Conformity Thesis is Kant’s solution to The Problem of Cognitive Semantic Luck; but it’s fundamentally important to see that this solution comes in two distinct stages:

(i) the asymmetric necessary conformity of all manifest natural objects with respect to the non-empirical or a priori structure of our innate capacity for human intuition, namely the faculty of sensibility, which includes our faculty for sense perception, and

(ii) the asymmetric necessary conformity of all manifest natural objects with respect to the non-empirical or a priori structure of our innate capacity for human concepts, namely the faculty of understanding, which includes our faculty for judging:

We can … trace all actions of the understanding back to judgments, so that the understanding in general can be represented as a faculty for judging. (CPR A69/B94, boldfacing in the original)

The asymmetric necessary conformity of all manifestly real natural objects with respect to the non-empirical or a priori structure of our innate capacity for human intuition and sense perception in sensibility is a conformity with respect to spatial, temporal, and mathematical structure, whereas the asymmetric necessary conformity of all manifest natural objects with respect to the non-empirical or a priori structure of our inate capacity for human concepts and judgment in understanding is a conformity with respect to causal-dynamic, substantial, and logical structure.

Or in other words, the ontic structure of a manifestly real natural object, or what Kant calls an “object of experience” (Gegenstand der Erfahrung), is not fully determined or fully specified as to all its causal-dynamic relations and all its substance-attribute features — hence it remains simply an “appearance” or “the undetermined object of an empirical intuition” (CPR A20/B34) — unless its structure necessarily conforms to the mentalistic non-empirical structure of our innnate cognitive capacity for concepts and judgment in addition to its also asymmetrically necessarily conforming to the mentalistic non-empirical structure of our innate cognitive capacity for sensory intuitions and perception.

So in this way, according to Kant, the manifestly real natural world is not merely an inherently sensible world, pre-formatted for mathematics, perceptions, consciousness, and intuitions, but also an inherently discursive world, pre-formatted for logic, judgments, propositions, and concepts.

The full-blooded ontic structure of the manifestly real natural world is grounded on pure general logical form, and there is therefore a deep philosophical elective affinity between Kant’s logically-driven conception of ontology in the Critique of Pure Reason and early Wittgenstein’s logically-driven conception of ontology in the Tractatus: “[t]he facts in logical space are the world.”[i]

But, even more than that, according to Kant, the manifestly real natural world is also an inherently cognitive-semantic world.

For the intentional contents of experiences-of-objects are held by Kant to be, at the very least, necessarily equivalent with actually existing objects-of-experience:

the objects, or what is the same thing, the experience in which alone they can be cognized (as given objects). (CPR Bxviii, emphasis in the original)

This necessary equivalence is even more explicitly stated by Kant in a letter to J.S. Beck in 1792:

You put the matter quite precisely when you say: “The content (Innbegriff) of a representation is itself the object; and the activity of mind whereby the content of a representation is represented is what is meant by ‘referring it to the object’.” (C 11: 314 [20 January 1792])

Indeed, the necessary equivalence of experience-of-objects and objects-of-experience that is stated in these texts appears to be as strong as the numerical- or token-identity of the representational contents of experience and the objects of experience themselves.[ii]

And this in turn entails what I have called strong transcendental idealism, as opposed to weak or counterfactual transcendental idealism.

Correspondingly, it’s also well worth noting that since, for Kant, the relation of identity entails synthetic a priori necessary equivalence, and since synthetic a priori necessity also entails synthetic a priori counterfactuals, then it is also possible to formulate a weaker analogue of The Strong Necessary Equivalence of Experience-of-Objects and Objects-of-Experience, that I will call The Weak or Counterfactual Necessary Equivalence of Experience-of-Objects and Objects-of-Experience, and which says that

Necessarily, for every well-formed, empirically meaningful (aka “objectively valid”), and correct or true (aka “objectively real”) content of human experience, there’s also an actual object of experience corresponding to it, and for every actual object of experience, were some rational human cognizers to exist and be appropriately placed in the same natural causal context as that object, then they would have well-formed, empirically meaningful, and correct or true experiences of that object.

So even if Kant’s thesis of The Strong Necessary Equivalence of Experience-of-Objects and Objects-of-Experience were objectively false — as indeed I think it is, since it seems obviously true that an actual object of experience (for example, a tree falling during a rainstorm in Redwood National Park in northern coastal California), can exist or occur without anyone ever experiencing it — nevertheless the The Weak or Counterfactual Necessary Equivalence of Experience-of-Objects and Objects-of-Experience could still be true, and is a recognizably Kantian doctrine, or at least is a recognizably broadly Kantian doctrine.

NOTES

[i] L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. C.K. Ogden (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 31, prop. 1.13.

[ii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), p. 20.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.